About a week ago, my 5-year-old son turned to me and said very calmly that Santa Claus isn’t real; he’s a “magical myth.”
I thought we were at least a year away from addressing the truth behind the big man in red, and he made his declaration right in front of his 2-year-old brother. So I took the very mature, thoughtful approach of shaming him into submission. What do you mean Santa Claus isn’t real? Of course he is. Stop talking right now. You know, really ace parenting stuff.
But even with some time to think on it, I’m ambivalent about how to handle this with my kiddo. Part of me believes that he isn’t actually ready to give up on the fantasy. Another part of me really doesn’t want him to be the kid who seeds skepticism among his fellow kindergartners. But he’s also a curious, critical thinker and I’m not thrilled by the prospect of actively trying to fake him out.
So I put a call to the HuffPost Parents community, who shared their wisdom about how they’ve handled the whole thing. Here’s some of their best advice.
Emphasize the spirit of Santa
If there was one theme that rose above all others in the responses from HuffPost Parents readers, it was the importance of shifting the focus to the underlying spirit of Santa ― i.e., his love and generosity ― and the broader magic of the holiday season.
Like reader Amanda, whose 4-year-old has been asking some tough questions and recently told her mom that magic is not real.
“It damn near broke my heart, so I told her that I very fully believe in magic. ... I’ve been reminding her often since then of the everyday magic that’s all around us.” Motherhood, for instance, is magic, Amanda said. “How our kitty cat snuggles and purrs is magic and how flowers grow. I told her that the feeling of Christmas is magic and that’s very real.”
Go the ‘Santa is only real for those who believe’ route
Several parents said they’ve told questioning kids that Santa is real for those who believe in him. And many make it clear that Santa only brings gifts to kids who believe in him. Personally, it’s unclear to me whether this truly convinces kids or simply makes them too nervous to keep pushing, but many parents said it’s an effective way to keep them at least outwardly believing in Santa.
“If you believe, then it’s as real as you make it,” said HuffPost Parents reader Maria. That’s also her explanation for why Santa doesn’t bring gifts to adults, most of whom have stopped believing.
“One of my boys said Santa isn’t real. My answer was: ‘Santa is real if you believe, and if he isn’t real, he doesn’t come,’” said reader Sam. “Suddenly, he believed again!”
Welcome your nonbeliever in on the fun
“When our son finally said he knew we were Santa, we told him that we were excited to be able to include him in the fun,” said HuffPost Parents reader Terri. “We explained that the idea of Santa was real, even if Santa himself as a person wasn’t.” She told her son that Santa is really someone who gets gifts for others without seeking recognition — and her now-15-year-old delights in using money he earns from his chores to buy small presents for younger family members.
“When my older kids outgrew it, I told them that they could help me with it for their younger sister,” said reader Sabrina. “Santa is not a real person, but it’s the name we give to the spirit of giving and the spirit of creating joy for others.”
When her eldest started questioning Santa, reader Andrea explained that “being a grown-up stinks, so Santa is a make-believe game parents play with kids.” She then invited him to help out, and promised him a present if he didn’t spoil the surprise.
Or just never do the Santa thing in the first place
This ship has already sailed in my household, but several commenters noted that they simply never led their children to believe Santa was real.
HuffPost Parents reader Brea said she told her daughter that “Santa is a character, like Paw Patrol or Peppa,” she explained. “Gifts come from us, [and there is] plenty of Christmas magic without making Santa real.”
“We never did the Santa thing! We enjoy the movies, stories and tales,” echoed reader Karen. But her kiddo has always known that mom and dad are the “real” Santas in their home.
Trust them not to ruin it for others.
Many parents noted that their kids have really risen to the occasion when it comes to not spoiling the secret for others. They just told them explicitly not to ruin the fun for other children, and emphasized their key role in keeping Christmas magic alive.
“My 7-year-old told me as we were writing letters to Santa this year that she knew I was the one who really got all the gifts, but she whispered it so her 4- year-old brother wouldn’t hear,” said reader Rita Louise. “I just winked at her and smiled.”
Rita Louise thinks kids don’t make it a big deal if their parents or caregivers don’t, and added that she loves to see her daughter pretend for her little brother’s sake. “It’s super sweet!”
“My 19-year-old son with autism still believes,” noted reader Jennifer Ann. “We let him have that because he loves it so much. His younger siblings who don’t believe love that he does, and they follow along.”
And if that’s not Christmas magic, I don’t know what is.